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November 27, 1986|ELLEN APPEL

Dust off the tinsel. With Christmas trees lining the entrance to Bullock's at South Coast Plaza and a bell choir to serenade guests, there was no doubt the holiday season had begun Saturday night when the Sandpipers, a support group of Hoag Hospital, staged its annual benefit.

Counting the proceeds from the silent and live auctions and the $90-per-person price tag, the "Enchanted Evening" netted more than $100,000 for the hospital's new Cancer Center. As an inaugural effort to raise $500,000 pledged by the Sandpipers over the next five years, the event certainly wasn't bad for starters.

Although the gala has traditionally been held at Bullock's, this year guests had substantially more space for mingling: The evening also marked the opening of the store's 90,000-square-foot expansion.

While some guests nibbled caviar blinis during the cocktail hour, others dove fearlessly into the "elephant garlic" by the bar, not worrying about social consequences. "It's like red onions," a waiter explained. "It doesn't make you cry. This garlic won't give you bad breath."

Sandpiper Fausta Vitali strolled past the housewares with auction item L-114 in hand--a Lhasa apso puppy. "I want everyone to fall in love with him," she said, before departing to find a dry towel for the puppy's basket.

Jewels, furs and trips were also up for bid, with "20% more items than last year," according to auction chair Joanne Fix. "We have a small group, but we're very active," she added.

Sandpiper Marilyn Reed agreed. "These are dedicated people. You don't have to go through the superficial song and dance," she said, the overhead light reflecting the glitter she had applied to her bare shoulders. ("It's not glitter. It's fairy dust," she teased.)

Patty and George Hoag enjoyed the evening along with the other guests, with Patty reminiscing about the hospital's beginnings. "We opened the doors Sept. 14, 1952, and if you're surprised I remember that, that's because it's our oldest son's birthday," she said, adding that only the date, and not the year, coincided.

Chairman Karen Whitaker said she had feared for the event's success--on that same day, USC was to meet UCLA in the Rose Bowl. "We were so concerned that we wouldn't meet our goal because of the game. There were so many of our members who would have to go to the game," Whitaker recalled.

But the event proved so popular that the Sandpipers had to turn people away, said president Janet Sawyer, explaining that the dining area could accommodate only 500 guests.

One couple, the Sarnoffs, were so intent on attending that Michelle said husband Cary would arrive straight from the airport, changing into black tie en route.

Proceeds from the event will provide new equipment for the radiation therapy department of Hoag's Cancer Center, according to department director Dr. Russell Hafer, who attended with wife Diane. "The community is so supportive of Hoag Hospital and the cancer department that we have excellent equipment already, but we'll have even better equipment now," he said with pride.

Also among those contributing toward Hoag's new center were the Donald Solsbys, who purchased a trip to Palmilla for $1,400, and Charles and Michelle Vaughan, who paid $750 to take the Lhasa apso home.

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